Zell Miller gives Georgia Senate race new twist

AP News
Posted: Aug 15, 2014 4:05 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — Democratic Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn has scored a key endorsement in her effort to pitch herself as a moderate capable of representing a GOP-leaning state, garnering the backing of former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller.

"Michelle Nunn gives this old Georgian hope," the 82-year-old Miller says in a Nunn campaign ad now on television. He adds that Nunn is a "bridge builder, not a bridge burner."

Nunn faces Republican David Perdue and a Libertarian candidate in a race that will help determine which party controls the Senate for the final two years of the Obama administration.

A colorful Democrat who famously crossed party lines in 2004 to endorse President George W. Bush for re-election and delivered a scathing keynote address at the GOP convention that year, Miller has long been a popular figure across the state.

The endorsement came the same day that the national GOP's Senate campaign arm unleashed two ads framing Nunn as a "rubber stamp" for President Barack Obama and his "liberal values."

The competing ad blitzes crystallize the themes of a race that could come down to which characterization of Nunn voters believe, particularly older white voters who once voted Democratic before trending to the Republican column. Obama lost Georgia twice and remains broadly unpopular among white voters here.

A nonprofit executive from Atlanta and daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, Michelle Nunn mostly avoids mentioning the president and pitches herself as a "common-sense problem solver" above the rancor that has largely paralyzed Capitol Hill since Republicans won a House majority in 2010 to yield a divided government.

With Miller's endorsement, Nunn now has another popular retired Georgia icon, in addition to her 75-year-old father, to cite as reinforcements for her message.

Miller and Sam Nunn mixed populism and ideologically diverse positions to reach a range of voters. Miller's public career spans from serving as chief of staff to segregationist Gov. Lester Maddox to becoming father of the Georgia lottery and its popular HOPE college scholarships. The elder Nunn was mostly a liberal on racial issues but generally was fiscally conservative as he parlayed four Senate terms into national prominence.

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But Republicans certainly aren't conceding the erstwhile "Southern Democrats" who once supported Miller and Sam Nunn before helping the GOP win every statewide and executive office in Georgia.

"Michelle Nunn? She'll be Obama's senator," says the announcer in one of the GOP ads, paid for with $830,000 from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The Perdue campaign tacitly acknowledged the dynamics, avoiding any mention of Miller when asked about his support for Nunn. "The one sure way to continue the dysfunction and partisanship in Washington is to vote for Barack Obama and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid's hand-picked candidate," said Perdue spokeswoman Megan Whittemore.


Follow Barrow on Twitter @BillBarrowAP.